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Britains Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson (L) greets Israels Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Foreign Office in London, February 6, 2017.(Photo by: REUTERS/KIRSTY WIGGLESWORTH/POOL)
Strong Israel supporter, but London has lost some foreign policy clout
Like Trump, Johnson is an ardent supporter of Israel. Like Trump, Johnson is not subtle. And, like Trump, Johnson triggers great objection to anything he supports
Until Tuesday, there was only one loud, brash, bombastic and unapologetic supporter of Israel strutting prominently across the world stage: US President Donald Trump.

Now Israel has two, the second being Britain’s incoming Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Like Trump, Johnson is an ardent supporter of Israel. Like Trump, Johnson is not subtle. And, like Trump, Johnson triggers great objection among his many detractors to anything he supports. If he says black, many will say white. If he says Israel is good, many will say it must not be.

And therein lies the rub.

On the one hand, having a strong supporter of Israel sitting in 10 Downing Street is a plus (outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May was also a strong supporter, though more understated), especially considering that the alternative could very well be Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn. The concern is that Johnson’s in-your-face style, including when it comes to Israel, may alienate some whom Israel does not want to alienate.

While there are some similarities in style between Trump and Johnson, on Israel, Johnson – though very friendly – is not nearly as strong in his support.

For instance, he has made crystal clear – unlike Trump – that he is for a two-state solution; he has criticized – unlike Trump – Israel’s reactions to terrorism from Gaza; and – again unlike Trump – has been vocal in his criticism of the settlements.

In a March 2017 interview with The Jerusalem Post, when Johnson visited the country as Britain’s foreign secretary, he said the choice facing Israel is either “a two-state solution, or else you have a kind of apartheid system. You have to go for a two-state approach. That is the long-standing position of the government.”

He said there must be a way to pave a path for a Palestinian state while preserving Israel’s security.
During that interview, he also articulated Britain’s “concerns about settlements, and the accelerated rate of settlements and demolitions.”

Notwithstanding some policy differences, during that interview he also expressed ardent support for Israel, saying that he has “long-standing support and admiration for Israel,” and that he has been sentimentally attached to the country dating back to when he worked on a kibbutz at the age of 18.

That sentiment has come out often over the years. For instance, in a November 2015 visit here, he was boycotted by some Palestinian groups that refused to meet him in the Palestinian Authority, after he called British supporters of BDS “corduroy-jacketed, snaggle-toothed, lefty academics,” adding: “I cannot think of anything more foolish” than to boycott Israel.

Israel, he said, is a “country that, when all is said and done, is the only democracy in the region, the only place that has in my view a pluralist open society.”

And he has repeated his affection for the country recently as well, saying earlier this month – according to a report on Johnson’s Mideast polices compiled by the British Israel Communications and Research Center (BICOM) – that he is a strong supporter of Israel, which he considers a “great country,” and that he himself is a “passionate Zionist.”

And as pleasing as that will be for policy-makers in Jerusalem, it is important to note that Britain’s impact on the Israel-Palestinian issue is not that great, and will become even less so once it leaves the EU as part of Brexit.

As a member of the EU – along with France, the only other country in the union with nuclear weapons and a very significant army – Britain had a serious amount of influence on EU foreign policy. Therefore, having a supportive prime minister in London often did carry benefits inside the EU, something acutely felt during the days of Tony Blair. But with Britain on its way out of the EU, that influence has been lost.

For Israel, it is always very good to have a friendly leader in power in any capital in the world, and that is certainly true in London, especially since its status as a permanent member of the UN Security Council with veto power gives it more than average clout in world affairs.

But still, the overall impact on Israel of having such a supportive presence in 10 Downing Street – although it will be greatly appreciated – should not be overstated.
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